DETROIT — General Motors and Ford Motor Co. are exploring the possibility of putting their manufacturing muscle toward medical equipment to help treat the novel coronavirus.
CEO Mary Barra spoke with officials from the Trump administration Wednesday about the company's plans to halt North American production until March 30.
"GM is working to help find solutions for the nation during this difficult time and has offered to help, and we are already studying how we can potentially support production of medical equipment like ventilators," spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan told Automotive News.
Ginivan said the possibility of medical equipment production is still only being analyzed at this point and there are no details yet on how the process would work.
In an interview Wednesday on Fox News, Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council, said he had spoken with executives from two of the Detroit 3, without saying which companies.
"One of them told me that, even while the men and women may be off for two weeks due to the virus, she's going to try to call them back so they can produce ventilators," Kudlow said. "They might even ask them to do it on a voluntary basis for civic and patriotic reasons."
Kudlow's use of "she" suggests he was referring to GM.
Ford said it also has had initial talks with the government about the possibility of manufacturing medial equipment.
“As America’s largest producer of vehicles and top employer of autoworkers, Ford stands ready to help the administration in any way we can, including the possibility of producing ventilators and other equipment," said Ford spokeswoman Rachel McCleery. "We have had preliminary discussions with the U.S. and U.K. governments and are looking into the feasibility. It’s vital that we all pull together to help the country weather this crisis and come out the other side stronger than ever.”
Tesla Inc. CEO Elon Musk, responding to Pakistan’s Science and Technology Minister Fawad Chaudhry and a tweet from a Tesla customer, said on Twitter that the company would make ventilators if there is a shortage.
Musk’s tweet didn’t provide any further details on potential plans.
Any effort by U.S. automakers to combat the coronavirus by making medical supplies would echo the "Arsenal of Democracy" during World War II, when U.S. manufacturers converted plants to build weapons, tanks, trucks and planes for allied forces.
That sort of innovation is what the country needs to overcome the coronavirus crisis, officials with the Center for Automotive Research wrote in an op-ed published Tuesday by The Hill.
"That was a time when we did take America's manufacturing might and bring it to bear on an an issue affecting the whole country," Kristin Dziczek, CAR's vice president of industry, labor and economics, told Automotive News. "And that's what we have to do now."
Bloomberg contributed to this report.